Leslie McGrath, “Encountering Franz Wright Along the Way”

Gretchen Warren Award, selected by Donald Vincent
Winning Poet: Leslie McGrath, “Encountering Franz Wright Along the Way”

 

Encountering Franz Wright Along the Way

I had been dawdling I don’t know how long
In the placid dark after the rash of day had receded.
I found an anvil-shaped stone in a field overlooking the road
And thinking I was alone, made audible the speech
I knew not to share with any person for fear of frightening them.
I lay back on that stone, turning away from the trees, away
From their ceaseless industry, toward the everything I could not see
But pretended to. He appeared on the smooth cheek of the sky,
The raw edge of a raw edge, alarming the stars into stillness.
“Don’t be so much at the mercy of things”, he boomed
But as I began to utter a polite fuck off, the sky behind him
The night sky, flashed emerald. This, his lucid recognition
Of the unabating shame made flesh in me. If he said more
Before he meteored away, I don’t recall. All I heard was mercy.

 

Leslie McGrath
Leslie McGrath is the author of Opulent Hunger, Opulent Rage (2009) and two chapbooks. McGrath’s latest book is a satiric novella in verse, Out From the Pleiades (2014). McGrath teaches creative writing at Central CT State University and is series editor of The Tenth Gate, a poetry imprint of The Word Works Press.

“Encountering Franz Wright Along the Way” was originally published by Academy of American Poets as a Poem-a-Day feature.

Len Krisak, translation from the Latin of lines from “Pharsalia” by Lucan

Der-Hovanessian Award, selected by Chloe Roberts-Garcia
Honorable mention: Len Krisak, translation from the Latin of lines from “Pharsalia” by Lucan

 

LUCAN: PHARSALIA (The Civil War), Book III, 1-35

As Auster bellied out the sails, it sent the ships
Off knifing through the deep, the eyes of all the men
On lookout for the waters of Ionia’s sea.
Pompey the Great alone kept Italy in view—
Its homeland ports and disappearing harbors, too,
Along with cloud-clad hills and misted mountains he
Was sailing from and knew he’d never see again.
At length his body fails him and his spirit slips

Down into sleep. There, through a cleft gashed in the earth:
The dismal face, the dire image, of his wife,
As Julia blazes like a Fury from her pyre.
“After this civil war began, they dragged me from
The blessèd fields, the region of Elysium,
To Styx, to join the guilty. There I saw the fire
Of the Furies’ torches, lit to kindle strife.
There, Charon on the burning banks prepares a berth

To Acheron, where endless souls make Hell expand
To take them in. The Parcae’s hands can barely hold
The threads that weary them; the work will not abate.
Magnus, married to me, you triumphed as a prince.
But with your new mate, Fortune turned. And ever since
Cornelia got you—as a mistress marked by Fate—
She’s rushed to bring you down, my pyre not yet cold.
Let her cling to your flag, at war on sea or land,

As long as I can roil your sleep with stress and strife.
And let there be no time for Love, which shall forget you,
As Caesar owns your day and Julia your night.
Husband, despite what the erasing banks of Lethe
Have done, your memory will live; the kings of death
Still let me haunt you. While you’re in the war’s worst fight,
You’ll see me in its midst. Magnus, my ghost won’t let you
Ever forget that Caesar’s daughter is your wife.

Your useless sword will never cut our marriage ties,
And civil war will make you mine.” Her spirit flies
Off, melting through the vain embrace her Pompey tries.

 

Len Krisak
Len Krisak’s latest book is a complete translation of Rilke’s New Poems. With work in the Hudson, Sewanee, and Antioch Reviews, he is the recipient of the Robert Penn Warren, Richard Wilbur, and Robert Frost Prizes, and a four-time champion on Jeopardy!

Stephen Massimilla, translation from the Italian of “The Hitlerian Spring” by Eugenio Montale

Der-Hovanessian Award, selected by Chloe Roberts-Garcia
Honorable mention: Stephen Massimilla, translation from the Italian of “The Hitlerian Spring” by Eugenio Montale

 

The Hitlerian Spring

“Nor she who turns to see the sun…”
—Dante (attributed), in a sonnet to Giovanni Quirini

A thick fog of maddened mayflies
swirls around dirty lamps and over the parapets.
Underfoot, they form a shroud that crackles
like sugar. Spring slowly frees
the nocturnal frost
from caverns, ghosted gardens
extending from Maiano to these shores.

Up the street, an infernal messenger just flew by,
flanked by curdling cries of Heil! Concealed
like the Wagnerian orchestra pit
at one of his mad midnight rallies, a mystical gulf
lit up and flagged with mangled crosses just embraced him,
gulped him down.

This evening all the shop windows
are shuttered—
though even these are armed
with cannons and little military toys.
A man has bolted his gate. He is a friendly butcher
who would garland the muzzles
of slaughtered goats with grapes:
Easter rite for those still unaware that the blood
has utterly changed. Shattered wings
and larvae on the banks; the water goes on chewing
at the shoreline.

What we had was all for nothing, then? The Roman candles
at the San Giovanni festival slowly whitening out
the horizon, and our pledges and lingering good-byes—
binding as a baptism in the mournful presence
of the horde (though a budding comet rayed the air, distilling
on the ice and the rivers of your New World shores
the angels of Tobias, the seven, yes, the seed
of the future)
                              …and the heliotrope unfolding
from your palms—all scorched, sucked dry
by this pollen that hisses like fire
and bites with the teeth of a blizzard…
No one is blameless anymore.

                                                            This ulcerated
spring is festive even if it freezes
all this death in death! Look again:
up there, Clizia, lies your destiny, you
who keep love so unaltered in its alteration
until the blind sun you carry inside you
can bedazzle the Other and explode
in Him, for all—or for you,
at least, at least.

Maybe the sirens, the pealing bells
that saluted monsters
at their Sabbath, are already dissolving
in the celestial sound that—unleashed—descends and conquers
with the breath of a dawn that tomorrow may rise again
for all—bleached, of course, but please without swarms
of gnawing terror, in the parched river bottoms of the south…

 

Stephen Massimilla
Stephen Massimilla’s new volume Cooking with the Muse (Tupelo, 2016) won the Eric Hoffer Book Award, among others. Acclaim for his previous books includes an SFASU Press Prize; the Bordighera Prize; the Grolier Prize; and a VanRensselaer Award, selected by Kenneth Koch. He teaches at Columbia University and The New School.

Rhina Espaillat, translation from the Spanish of “A Bout Rime Pair of Sonnets” by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

Der-Hovanessian Award, selected by Chloe Roberts-Garcia
Winning Poet: Rhina Espaillat, translation from the Spanish of “A Bout Rime Pair of Sonnets” by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

 

Sonnet I

To Celio, who, unregarded, does not wish
to seem forgotten.

You say that I forget you, but you lie:
it would require thinking to forget you,
and nowhere in my thinking have I let you—
even as one forgotten—saunter by.
My thoughts are far—so far—from you, that I,
focused elsewhere, as if I’d never met you,
have no idea what thoughts of mine upset you,
or if your absence from them makes you sigh.
If anyone could love you, one could, yes,
forget you: what a triumph that would be,
affirming your existence; none the less,
you are so far from such a victory
that you’re eclipsed, not through forgetfulness,
but sheer rejection by my memory.

Sonnet II

Celio, employing the same rhymes, refutes Clori’s
hyperbole, with his own even more ingenious truth.

You claim to have forgotten me, but lie
when you say, “I’ve forgotten to forget you,”
since clearly, thinking so, your mind won’t let you
forget forgotten me, and keeps me by.
If your thoughts differ from Albiro’s, I
suspect you’ll come around, for since I met you
it’s you who think the thoughts that most upset you,
saying things you don’t mean that make you sigh.
You say that I’m not lovable, but yes,
it’s you yourself who prove I well may be,
so all your arguments profit you less
than they do me; since to gain victory
you keep forgetting your forgetfulness,
I’m not rejected by your memory.

 

Rhina P. Espaillat
Rhina P. Espaillat’s 3 chapbooks and 10 books comprise poetry, short stories and essays in English and Spanish, and translations. Her work appears in numerous journals and over 80 anthologies, and earned national and international awards, including the NEPC 2006 May Sarton Award, several honors from the Dominican Republic’s Ministry of Culture, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from Salem State College.

Suellen Wedmore, “The Iceman Cometh”

Erica Mumford Prize, selected by Moira Linehan
Winning Poet: Suellen Wedmore, “The Iceman Cometh”

 

The Iceman Cometh
          ─after visiting the Iceman Exhibit at the Museum of Archeology,
Bolzano, Italy

Ötzi: Freeze-dried & copper-skinned,
          you played hard-to-get in a prehistoric
hide and seek, waiting five thousand years

          to be found, head thrust out of a glacier’s
warming, an arrowhead buried in your shoulder,
          eye sockets empty, left arm awry.

Pulled from ice, we greet you, frost-
          cacooned behind museum glass,
fingers curved as if for a long nap.

          Born before the pyramids rose at Giza,
before Stonehenge circled Salisbury Plain,
          I try to imagine you in your prime–

making love, crying, singing,
          all those things that make us human;
(mankind ingenious, even then

          judging from your fine-stitched coat,
your leggings of supple goatskin).
          You carried necessaries unavailable

to us now, even schooled
          as we are, industrialized, computerized:
you fashioned arrows from viburnum limbs,

          built a fire each night from embers
nestled in leaves in a birch bark urn,
          and sewn by an agile hand

with lime tree bast. They gave you a name
          to make you seem more human,
though your shoes did this for me—hay

          tucked around your feet with netting,
a leather strip across the sole for grip,
          grit for a hostile world.

 

Suellen Wedmore
Poet Laureate emerita for Rockport, Massachusetts, Suellen Wedmore has published three chapbooks: Deployed, published by Grayson Books, On Marriage and Other Parallel Universes, published by Finishing Line Press, and Mind the Light, published by Quill’s Edge Press. In 2004 she graduated from New England College with an MA in poetry.

Vivian Shipley, “A Gift for My Seventieth Birthday”

Barbara Bradley Award, selected by Marjorie Thomsen
Honorable Mention: Vivian Shipley, “A Gift for My Seventieth Birthday”

 

A Gift for My Seventieth Birthday

The man selling the Sunday New Haven Register
at the State Street ramp could be my oldest son,
drunk, out of work again. If his mother were stopped
by the light next to him as I am on my birthday,
would she also be grateful he is not dead, maybe
buy a paper, tell him to keep the change? Smoking,
door open, elbowing out of a rusted burgundy
Mercury, he leans on his thighs. He does not get up.
His full head of hair brushed back like my father’s,
I can’t stop staring at furrowed cheeks that arrow
my heart back into Appalachian hollers. Orange vest,
his arms are a macramé of faded burns, cuts, welts,
not from barbed fences or baling hay, but overalls sag
with red clay dirt that could have come from suckering
tobacco in Kentucky fields. I picture him walking
Skiff Street probing seams for change in couches left
on the curb. I wish I had clear bags of cans and bottles
I left by Shop Rite for people who need the deposit,
redeeming what they can. He is not my son, I am not
his mother. My light is green; I can drive away.

 

Vivian Shipley
Connecticut State University Distinguished Professor, Vivian Shipley teaches at Southern Connecticut State University. In 2015, she published two books, The Poet (LaLit Press at Southeastern Louisiana University) and Perennial (Negative Capability Press, Mobile, AL) which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and named the 2016 Paterson Poetry Prize Finalist.

Vickie L. Weaver, “Judging Poetry”

Barbara Bradley Award, selected by Marjorie Thomsen
Winning Poet: Vickie L. Weaver, “Judging Poetry”

 

Judging Poetry

Each year I judge a poetry
contest on a certain theme.
Enamored, I’ve read and scribed
poetry since I was a child,
as confined as each story
within this metered form,
measuring the metaphors,
choosing roses over thorns.

My life’s had themes divergent,
from love and grief to joy and time.
So, who am I to set your confinement,
judge your imagery and rhyme,
contrast the old against the new,
and render fair, good or excellent?
Somewhere between now and then
you are me and I am you.

 

Vickie L. Weaver
Lifelong poet Vickie L. Weaver is a freelance writer/editor/journalist, blogger, and owner of Writestyle. Her rhyming picture book, My Child, I’ll Still Be Loving You, highlights the parent-child bond while her biography, Dancing in the Stars, entertains and inspires via dance, romance, history, Vaudeville and Hollywood. “Poetry forever!” she says.

Paula Bonnell, “Fooling Around With Words”

Rosalie Boyle / Norma Farber Award, selected by Wendy Drexler
Honorable Mention: Paula Bonnell, “Fooling Around With Words”

 

Fooling Around With Words

Sestinas always seem false to me,
the same six words, repeating themselves
over and over in an odd pattern
(if patterns can be odd, that is)
like a muttered, half-remembered
refrain impossible to get right.

It’s odd to think of getting verses right.
The question should be, Does it speak to me
in voice and words as true as if remembered
by someone else who might have been myself
or just the voice of “That that is” –
the one who knows, without a pattern?

What could be more untrue than pattern?
Surely Amy Lowell was right.
That that is not is not, is
not that so? A question told me
as a child recurs as now I ask myself
What is invented? what remembered?

They’re kindred faculties, memory
and imagination, both turn and return
to moments when we were ourselves,
so self-forgetful everything seemed right
(the way that moment opened as you touched me:
the clouds, the sun, salt breeze – all that was

before us, dunegrasses stirring – now is
astir within). Outside, no more of -ember,
no more of -ary. March sings to me
of April and of May, a welcome pattern
flutters in with birdsong as these green tips right
themselves, emerge from dirt to be themselves

and sprout and reach and flower, overflow themselves
with blossom. All that’s thawed is
growing, flying, grasping straws that feel right
to build nests with as birds remember
the way they built before, and pattern
varies pattern: the April fool is me.

 

Paula Bonnell
At fifteen, Paula Bonnell found a small blue book called “The College Book of Verse,” plunged into it, and became consumed with a desire to make her own poems. Years later, intermittent visits from the muse have yielded results pleasing to some discerning readers, so PB may have achieved Terry Malloy’s ambition.

Jean Kreiling, “Finally Found It”

Rosalie Boyle / Norma Farber Award, selected by Wendy Drexler
Winning Poet: Jean Kreiling, “Finally Found It”

 

Finally Found It
(the name of an antique store in Maine)

As she pulled off the road, tired of the rain,
and parked outside the big, gray-shingled store,
she wondered if she’d find it here in Maine.

It seemed unlikely. She watched runoff drain
out rusty downspouts, then walked to the door
and pulled it open, shaking off the rain.

She saw a tarnished brass headboard, a plain
oak butler’s desk, a single weathered oar,
and lobster traps (you find them here in Maine)—

not things that she had sought, but these mundane
objects each told a tale, preserved the lore
of distant days along this road. The rain

began to echo rumblings in her brain:
she liked it here, where history was more
alive than dead. What had she found in Maine?

The raindrops seemed to mutter a refrain
of welcome, an old song she’d heard before;
she felt the timeless pull of home. The rain
insisted that she’d found it—here in Maine.

 

Jean L. Kreiling
Jean L. Kreiling’s first collection of poems, The Truth in Dissonance (Kelsay Books), was published in 2014. She is a past winner of the Able Muse Write Prize, the Great Lakes Commonwealth of Letters Sonnet Contest, two New England Poetry Club prizes, and the String Poet Prize.

Alfred Nicol, “An Indelicate Proposal”

Rosalie Boyle / Norma Farber Award, selected by Wendy Drexler
Winning Poet: Alfred Nicol, “An Indelicate Proposal”

 

An Indelicate Proposal

Let us conscript an army of old men
and shake them from the napping-dream of peace;
let them rejoin the wars that never cease
and heat thin blood to simmering again.

When young men die in battle, more is lost.
By laying down their lives while they are strong
for fields they haven’t harvested as long,
they pay a lesser debt at greater cost.

So let us press the elders into service.
They will be recognized and celebrated,
no longer penned inside, emasculated,
clucking like old hens, ruffled and nervous,

ready for the freezer or the fryer.
What difference if the end is ice or fire?

 

Alfred Nicol
Alfred Nicol’s most recent collection of poetry is Animal Psalms (Able Muse Press, 2016). Nicol has published two other collections, Elegy for Everyone (2009), and Winter Light, which received the 2004 Richard Wilbur Award. His poems have appeared in Poetry, Commonweal, The Hopkins Review, and other literary journals. Visit alfrednicol.com.